Rabbi Ross. My son is in an upper elementary grade in a local Yeshiva, and he feels very strongly that his Rebbe doesn’t like him. Surprisingly, the Rebbe in question is one of the younger and more outgoing Rebbeim. I’ve spoken to this Rebbe a few times, and he continues to insist that he is just being tough on the boys that are talkative during class. What should I do? Lawrence NY
I would like to clarify one thing before I share my answer. Having a younger Rebbe doesn’t automatically mean your child will have a better or more exciting year. There are many older and more experienced Rebbeim that have a fantastic understanding of children, and can really motivate them properly. Obviously this e-mail is not the venue for a full discussion on this topic.
That being said, if your son feels that his Rebbe doesn’t like him, he may very well be correct. We don’t give children enough credit, but they are very perceptive when it comes to understanding teachers and Rebbeim. I’ve learned over the years to take these complaints pretty seriously, especially if it’s a repeat complaint.
Let’s look at this from the Rebbe’s point of view. It seems pretty obvious that your son is talking during class, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he’s disturbing others as well. When teaching any subject, a Rebbe or a teacher is trying to engage and captivate an audience of children, many of whom have the attention span of a flea. One disruptive child can really make a day far more challenging than it needs to be.
On the other hand, anyone going into Chinuch needs to understand that not all children are alike. There will always be children that disrupt the class, and they might very well be the ones who need to feel that the Rebbe loves them.
Remember, you do not want to involve other parents. Not only can this become Lashon Hora, it can really complicate things. Sharing your issue on What’s App would be a huge mistake as well.
There are three main steps to resolving this.
Step one would be to speak with your son. You need to pinpoint the issue without leading him on. In Navi, we learn from Rechavam that you need to stay neutral when discussing information or asking advice. Asking your son, “Is your Rebbe mean to you during recess”, is planting seeds in his mind.
During this discussion, you want to keep the questioning simple. “Why do you feel that your Rebbe doesn’t like you?” You can also ask, “What could the Rebbe do to prove he cares about you?” Don’t play devil’s advocate. You want your son to feel comfortable with the conversation, not defensive. Let him speak as much as he wants. Ask him for specifics. A popular method is to repeat his last few words in the form of a question. He might say, “And he’s mean to me!”, to which you’d reply “Mean to you?” So he continues “Yes! He makes me write over the Posuk 500 times and no one else!” Tell your son that you fully understand him, and will discuss what should be done. He should not bring this conversation up with his friends if he wants you to take it seriously.
Step two is involving the Rebbe, not the Menahel. This should be a sit down meeting, not a phone conversation. Past experience has taught me that when you meet the Rebbe, you should not bring your child. It’s extremely counterproductive. I wouldn’t even tell your son that you’re discussing it with the Rebbe. If possible both parents should attend this meeting.
You’re not going on the attack. You’re simply trying to ascertain if there is indeed a problem, or perhaps your son is being overly sensitive. Let the Rebbe fully explain himself, and be sure to let the Rebbe know that you fully understand that your son is not the easiest child. Carefully bring up the issues that your son discussed, and see how the Rebbe reacts. You’re looking for him to be attentive and understanding. Your goal should be for him to take the lead in the conversation. If he really cares about your son, he’ll be apologetic that your son isn’t feeling loved. He might want to change his seat, give him a reward in class, or even have a one-on-one talk with him. That would be perfect.
If the Rebbe seems defensive, or if you’re picking up uncomfortable vibes, end the conversation politely. Don’t say anything inappropriate or sharp (such as, “I guess I’ll have to bring this up with the Menahel!”). Thank him for his time and be on your way.
Step three is involving the Menahel. Once again, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Just because you and the Administrator or Rosh Yeshiva went to camp together 35 years ago, doesn’t mean you should go over anyone’s head. Set up a private meeting with the Menahel by calling the school. Keep in mind, any good Menahel will immediately speak to the Rebbe to find out what the meeting is about.
At this meeting, you’re not accusing the Rebbe of anything. You’re coming in as a concerned parent. You can tell the Menahel that you tried speaking to the Rebbe first, but he didn’t seem to be receptive. Acknowledge that your son might have behavioral issues and explain that you want him to love Yeshiva and not have a bad experience. The Menahel should not call the Rebbe into the meeting.
Be prepared with a solution. Is there a different track? Is there a resource Rebbe that pulls kids out during class to learn with them? Let the Menahel know that you respect his opinion. Incidentally, if he can’t help you resolve the issue, chances are that going to an Administrator or Rosh Yeshiva won’t help much either.
If the issue was not resolved to your satisfaction, you have a decision to make. On the one hand, this can be a great learning experience for your son. Sometimes we deal with people that aren’t our biggest fans, and running away from the problem isn’t always an option. However, if your son is really miserable, you might need to take more drastic steps. As always, before doing anything major, speak with your Rav for some guidance.
Here are some great tips that might help out.
I hope that you have Hatzlacha and your son ends off the year on a high note.
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Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.